The UK is making significant steps in reducing its food waste, with total food waste levels falling by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018 – a 7% reduction per person and equivalent of filling London’s Royal Albert Hall ten times.
The new data comes from sustainability not-for-profit WRAP’s latest Courtauld Commitment 2025 milestone report, which sets our progress in food waste reduction since 2007. It reveals that households and businesses are now tackling the problem at an accelerated rate, with a greater rate of progress from 2015 to 2018 than over the preceding five years.
Looking back to when WRAP began work on household food waste, a total of 1.4 million tonnes of food has been saved from going to waste each year in our homes compared to 2007 levels - enough each year to fill 150,000 food collection trucks which, if placed end to end, would stretch from London to Prague.
While good progress, there is much more to do WRAP warns – across the whole food chain. The report shows that UK households still waste 4.5 million tonnes of food that could have been eaten, worth £14 billion every year (£700 for an average family with children). The volume of food still wasted equates to ten billion meals. A reduction of 4% in the supply chain also shows good overall progress from businesses, but WRAP says many more businesses need to step up their action on food waste to help halve global food waste by 2030.
The significant decrease in household food waste can be attributed to a range of factors including heightened public awareness through WRAP’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign, clearer labelling on food packaging, and more local authorities offering residents separate food waste collections in line with WRAP’s Framework for More Consistent Collections - helping to raise awareness within the home.
Marcus Gover, WRAP CEO, “We are in a new decade and have just ten years if we are to honour our international commitment to halve food waste. This really matters because it is untenable that we carry on wasting food on such a monumental scale when we are seeing the visible effects of climate change every day, and when nearly a billion people go hungry every day.
“This great news announced today means we are starting to wake up to the reality of food waste, but we are too often turning a blind eye to what is happening in our homes. We are all thinking about what we can do for the environment and this is one of the most simple and powerful ways we can play our part. By wasting less food, we are helping to tackle the biggest challenges this century – feeding the world whilst protecting our planet.”
However, while the most significant drop in household food waste since 2010, WRAP’s latest annual citizen survey – also released today - found that despite more of the public being aware of the issue of food waste, less than half of the population (39 per cent ) connect wasting food at home with the impact this has on the environment. Based on self-reported estimates for the most commonly wasted foods (potatoes, bread, chicken and milk) it appears around one in three people would still be classified as being high food wasters.
While the UK is a global leader in tackling food waste and supporting international food waste prevention projects, WRAP wants the UK to go further, faster. The organisation will continue to work closely with governments, businesses and citizens to address this throughout 2020; including the launch of a bold and far-reaching public campaign to ignite a national food conversation and complement the work of Love Food Hate Waste.
Food manufacturers reduced their sector waste by around 10% saving more than 160,000 tonnes and £190 million. Retail food waste rose slightly to 277,000 tonnes (2018) from 260,000 three years earlier. At less than 1% of sales it remains the lowest rate and makes up 3% of the total. The increase may be linked to efforts to help suppliers and customers cut food waste. These can, in the short-term, increase food waste in depots and stores through practices like relaxing specifications on fresh produce, and providing more loose fresh produce having led to operational challenges. Hospitality & Food Service Sector food waste is just under 1.1 million tonnes. More data is needed to quantify change robustly for this sector, and WRAP is building momentum through its Guardians of Grub campaign, with more businesses beginning to measure food waste.
The introduction of a common set of principles for food waste measurement, as outlined in the Food Waste Reduction Roadmap (produced by WRAP and IGD) has been significant too. All of the major grocery retailers have committed to the Roadmap, together with 117 producers/manufacturers, 24 HaFS businesses and 29 other organisations (trade bodies, those involved in redistribution etc.). The combined turnover of these 156 businesses is over £230bn, representing more than 50% of the overall turnover for UK food manufacture, retail and HaFS. The first 26 businesses to report year-on-year data are collectively showing a reduction in food waste of 7%, saving around £100m of food or 57,000 tonnes.